Basin to Tom Traverse day 3: Four Gables to Horton Creek Campground

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             day 2

June 27, 2016
With the long day ahead, we woke up before sunrise and began packing up. By the time sunrise had come, we were all ready to go. Both of us were feeling way better than we had in the last 2 days. It finally felt like we were beginning to acclimate properly.

Shortly after beginning the descent of Four Gable's class 2 north ridge, we hit a large patch of hard snow and decided to strap on crampons. After the snow patch, it was a gradual but straightforward rock hop and scree slog up the south side of Gable Lakes Peak.

views from Gable Lakes Peak

On the northeast side of Gable Lakes Peak was a prominent couloir which descended over 1,000 ft, prompting us to get the crampons and ice axes back out. Down we went, slowly kicking steps into the snow for over an hour before finally reaching the base of the couloir. The descent had used up a fair bit of energy, and we took a longish break at a seasonal pool of water at the lowpoint between Gable Lakes Peak and La Tete Peak.

looking back up at Gable Lakes Peak's northeast couloir

After the break, we began stumbling up the southwest ridge of La Tete Peak. This ridge was pretty straightforward, and included some tediousness just before the summit as we weaved through a large boulder field.

Next up was Mt. Tom, which now looked like a monster dominating over it's neighboring mountains. Everything we had heard about this mountain had indicated tediously loose rock. The mountain itself had almost 2,000 ft of prominence- 2,000 ft of rubble that we had to ascend for this final peak on the traverse.

From the lowpoint (11,690 ft) between La Tete Peak and Mt. Tom, we picked up an old mining road and followed it 1.2 miles to where it dead ended at the defunct Tungstar Mine (11,820 ft). After munching on snacks, we began the big slog. Up and up we went, utilizing a series of faint use-trails which fizzled in and out. There was not really a "correct" way to go. It was all just piles of loose scree- just one foot in front of the other. By 3pm, we had finally topped out, gazing at amazingly spectacular views in all directions, including the vast expanse of Owens Valley and Bishop baking in the 100+ degree heat, all the way to the snow, glaciers, and alpine lakes of the High Sierra. Based on the register, it seemed like most climbers of Mt. Tom were locals from Bishop.

Mt. Tom summit views- looking southwest





Our next task was to descend over 8,000 ft of Tom's north ridge with less than 5 hours of daylight remaining. This included a 30 minute break for boiling snow since we were out of water.

The first 2,600 ft of elevation down the north ridge was somewhat tedious, involving several ups and downs with loose rock. Compared to the other side, it was a breeze, and I would recommend the north ridge as the go-to route for Mt. Tom. To the east, we could hear low rumbles of thunder, but the storms were far off over the White Mountains and were not too concerning.

Starting at 11,000 ft, the descent quickened dramatically as the ridge descended more efficiently and the ground became increasingly sandy. Eventually we found ourselves coasting down steep sand, sometimes descending at a rate of 4,000 ft/hr. The heat was quickly rising, and we were somewhat glad to be descending the ridge at a later time than initially planned.

By 8:50pm, we finally hit the desert floor just as it was beginning to get dark, and searched around for a bit before locating an old dirt road which would take us back to Horton Creek Campground. The next 1.5 hours found us marching this 4 mile stretch of road under the desert heat. The sky had grown completely dark, and it felt like we were going nowhere, with the vast blackness stretching out in all directions, never really changing in appearance. After what felt like a short eternity, we smelled campfire smoke and popped out at the campground at 10:20pm. With both of our appetites rapidly returning, we quickly drove into Bishop to eat.

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